In this series, we’ll share the secrets of barista competitors. From choosing a theme to setting a practice schedule, competitors discuss how to compete smartly, efficiently, and effectively.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Preparing for competition can be an incredibly solitary process. Late nights at the café, tasting espresso over and over, rewriting your script—a lot of the legwork happens by yourself. But Charlotte Malaval, a two-time World Barista Championship finalist, the French National Barista Champion, and the new Green Buyer for Toby’s Estate, recommends reaching out to others and surrounding yourself with coaches. “Coaches are there to help you keep your focus even when things become very challenging, or when your nerves turn mad,” she shares. “They drive you to review your beliefs and expectations. They put you in front of your contradictions and paradoxes.”
Charlotte continues, “They are here to remind you the reasons of your engagement in competition especially when you get confused, and when doubt sets in. You don’t need to have a big team of people, or too many guides. Not a lot, but people carefully chosen, whose opinions you really respect and who you will turn to. What you want in a mentor is someone who truly cares for you and who will look after your interests and not just their own.” Today Charlotte shares with us how coaches have been helpful to her training, development, and ultimately success in competition.
- Coaches help you learn
Although they can be competitive, barista competitions aren’t really “competitions” per se in that you’re not going head-to-head against someone else. “It is a very rare situation where you’re not measuring yourself to others,” Charlotte shares. “It is actually not so much about winning. It’s not the result, but the act of learning, the act of getting there which grants the greatest enjoyment. And for me, in this process, the most valuable thing was to have coaches, or better, mentors.” Barista competitions are an evaluation of you as a barista and coffee steward, so the focus of your training should be on continued self-improvement and development of skill. It can be hard to reflect, however, without the help of others.
“Barista competitions are a unique preparation experience; it is much more than assembling coffee beverages, it is a deep coffee introspection,” Charlotte notes. You can—and likely have—done a lot of introspection of your own, and it likely drives the decisions you make and the coffees you choose. But to gain a full perspective of what you’re doing and how you could improve requires input from other coffee experts. You can’t be an expert in everything, so turning to coaches and mentors helps you gain a full perspective on your performance, and will ultimately make you a better barista, no matter how highly you score.
- Coaches don’t necessarily make your life easier
You might think, with the help of a coach or two, some of the critical decisions you need to make might be easier. A coach is supposed to tell you what to do and not do, right? But the right coaches will push you to do more, and might actually make your preparation time harder—but certainly more meaningful. “It doesn’t necessary make things easier,” Charlotte shares of her coaches, “but you also know they will push you, challenge you, and bring the best out of you!” Your coaches should make you question the choices you make and the drinks you serve, and push you to get better with every practice. Without another set of eyes, your routine or signature drink might never reach its full potential. Charlotte finds the input of her coaches so meaningful that they have become an integral part of her decision to compete. “Today, I would actually not see much interest in competing if I wasn’t surrounded by great people. The competition experience takes a very different dimension with a team,” she notes.
- Coaches will not always be nice.
As a competitor, you may not always make the right decisions. You might think a signature drink is delicious when it’s not. You might think your tasting notes are accurate when they’re not. The right coach won’t automatically validate your decisions—which can be painful to hear if you’re not ready. “Coaches are the one who will bring you to ask yourself the right and also sometimes painful questions,” Charlotte notes, adding that perhaps if you feel uncomfortable or unwilling to receive feedback, then competing might not be the right thing for you. “You engage in the competition because you realize that you know so little, and that competing helps you understand many things about coffee in general. It is a learning process, and that is why it is important to be open to receive help, to ask questions, and admit that you don’t know,” Charlotte shares.
- At the very end, coaches can be a source of comfort.
Your coach cannot do your routine, but they are often most helpful right before you perform or during the competition. “A very important part [of having a coach] is to feel them close to you on the competition days, where your ability to think and handle things becomes more and more restricted. It is a very intense experience, physically, but most of all emotionally—especially when you have to go through different rounds,” Charlotte shares.
Competition is emotional—more emotional than you might think—so to have a constant source of comfort is key. “It is incredible to feel that much in just few days … so there are times when they’ll maybe have to ‘babysit’ you. Making sure you eat and sleep well. Helping you solve last-minute problems. Washing and polishing dishes with you. Finding the tasting notes. Setting the trolley with you. Hugging you. Cheering you on in the crowd. And comforting you,” Charlotte notes. But having a coach not only helps ease the stress of competing, but also makes the entire process all that more meaningful since you get to share the experience with others. “The result is much deeper and meaningful than your technical and sensory scores,” Charlotte shares. “You have so little to lose, and everything to win! And if you’re surrounded by great people, this can become the most inspiring experience of your career.”